Adi Shankar’s plans to expand his Bootleg Universe have hit a bit of a snag.
After delivering a series of well-received short films “The Punisher: Dirty Laundry,” “Venom: Truth in Journalism,” “Judge Dredd: Superfiend” and “Power/Rangers” — the last one having experienced legal issues for a few days before being mutually resolved — Shankar unveiled his latest endeavor, “James Bond: In Service Of Nothing,” yesterday. A dark cartoon that finds aged British Secret Service agent James Bond now obsolete and haunted by his past actions and personal demons, “In Service of Nothing” has run up against legal issues courtesy of MGM, which owns the rights to Bond. Within hours of Shankar’s latest creation going live across the Internet, the studio had the video pulled from YouTube citing copyright violation issues.
Shortly after his cartoon was taken down, Shankar spoke about his entire Bootleg U with SPINOFF ONLINE. While discussing the Bond controversy was off the table, Shankar talked openly about his creative vision for “In Service Of Nothing,” the feedback he’s received for “Power/Rangers,” how he approaches violence in his films and the plans he has for a possible interpretation of Captain Planet.
Spinoff Online: Can you talk about the genesis of your Bootleg Universe? Where did this all begin?
Adi Shankar: It started from a place of fandom. I love these characters, I like to play with them — which might be the wrong word — but kind of explore them through a different lens. Sometimes it’s darker. Sometimes it’s comedic. In the case of Power Rangers, obviously it’s darker. In the case of Dredd and Venom, it’s much more comedic.
So far, you’ve produced movies like “The Grey,” “Dredd,” “Lone Survivor” and “A Walk Among the Tombstones.” Does the Bootleg Universe fill a particular void for you, or is it just an extension of your creativity?
Literally, it’s just an extension of my creativity. You hit the nail on the head. Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but I don’t look at any of this stuff as really different. Just because a movie is in theaters, I don’t look at it as greater than something on television, or more prestigious than something on YouTube. If something is entertaining, it’s entertaining. The Bootleg Universe is just another form of self-expression. It’s a creative outlet. I’m not trying to leverage this into something else. This is not a pitch for these characters. I have made, and will continue to make, traditional movies.
A lot of it is like social commentary, too. You can turn these characters inside out, but you can also make interesting points about who we are as a society by reinterpreting them. You look at both Power Rangers and the Bond one that went up, and they are thematically similar. They are about how we, as a society, weaponize people. We give them privileges and then act completely shocked when they flip out at the end of the day. They are also about the role technology plays in our lives today.
“James Bond: In Service Of Nothing” hit the Internet yesterday. What was your vision for this take on 007?
It stemmed from literally sitting around, thinking about this character. We love to tell the coming-of-age story or the hero’s journey. We love to tell stories about people’s call to action and their moments of glory when they are in the line of duty. Very rarely do we explore what happens to that guy after the battle is over. That’s the more interesting perspective. We’re making all these movies about superheroes and people running around saving the world, but it takes a toll on these people. That’s why “American Sniper” connected in the way it did. It’s a superhero movie about a real guy, but it’s him dealing with the ramifications of his circumstances.
This is your second animated video. Why go that route instead of keeping it live-action?
I really wanted to contrast the ’50s to today with the character. It allowed me free rein to do stuff that would have been difficult to do with live-action. At the end of the day, it’s a parody. It’s a satirical parody cartoon of a secret agent that loses his shit after the call of duty is over. The world has moved on without him. The irony is, although it seems the world has moved on, in a lot of ways, it’s caught up with the whole idea of self-absorption and what not.
You take Bond to a place many people wouldn’t expect.
I think about that a lot. We do this with our icons and our heroes. When you die young, you become an icon. But when a guy lives for an extended period of time, then what happens to his psyche, especially when we get to indulge in every fantasy? This is not a sane individual. You’re talking about a guy who has the same instincts as a serial killer. He’s an alcoholic. He’s a womanizer. He’s an action-junkie and was literally allowed to indulge all those urges and fantasies. At some point, they get taken away. They have to. That stuff doesn’t fly in our world, today.
Your last video, “Power/Rangers,” went viral at super speed. How surprised were you by its reception?
It was great. My ego isn’t attached to these things. Again, I’m doing them as a form of self-expression. I’m not profiting off of it in any way, shape or form. I’m glad people enjoyed it. I can’t allow myself to get attached to that, because it’s going to affect my work going forward. I’m going to have expectations. What I did find interesting was the chatter around it, that narrative that it presented, so to speak.
Let’s talk about the chatter. Saban, the company behind the original “Power Rangers” TV series, claimed copyright infringement and made you — temporarily — take the video down. What did you make of all the controversy as it happened?
No comment. The most important thing is, it’s back up and people can enjoy it if they want to, or not enjoy it if they don’t. That’s really what I care about. The inner workings is what it is.
Part of the criticism seemed to revolve around the video’s violence, which has a stylized feel to it. What is your approach when it comes to bloodshed and killings?
As long as you approach violence in a very realistic way, it’s not going to desensitize the audience to it. The moment it becomes cartoony, that’s when you’ve created a problem. When you have an insane body count, but there’s no ramifications for someone’s actions, that’s when it becomes a problem. You are basically glorifying violence when there are no consequences for it.
You’ve put your own unique spin on Judge Dredd, the Punisher, Venom, the Power Rangers and James Bond. Is there another franchise sandbox you are aching to play in?
Captain Planet was my other favorite TV show growing up. The truth is, if you look at our world today, the world we live in right now, that is the world Captain Planet was fighting against. Literally, Captain Planet and the Planeteers lost. If they existed in our world today, they would be labelled eco-terrorists.
I had this whole idea for a movie where it opens with a montage of Captain Planet being shot down by a rocket. Gaia, the spirit of Earth, has brought them all together. She’s surrendering to a private military, but they gun her down. She’s dead. They kill the spirit of Earth. These kids are disbanded, but we learn the fire guy is out there. He’s the lone badass. He’s the vigilante of the group and is still fighting, even though he doesn’t know what he is fighting for.
He’s become ruthless. He’s running around and being like, “Fire,” and using it to burn people alive. They finally summon Captain Planet again, but the Earth is dying. He draws his power from the Earth, so he’s weak and can’t fly and half his powers have been dulled. He can still fight, but he’s not super shiny Captain Planet. He’s weak Captain Planet.
Is there crossover potential in the Bootleg Universe? Do all your characters co-exist in the same world?
I thought about that, and I thought about having Thomas Jane appear in the black and white bootleg. There’s a cameo at the end where a character is effectively Bullseye. I thought it might be cool if it was Thomas Jane, there. At the same time, I want to avoid that whole thing where movies literally become TV shows and they are all shot the same way. They are all taking place in the same timeline or continuity.
I do love all that stuff, though. My favorite comic books were team-up issues or crossovers. “Captain America is teaming up with Wolverine. Then, all of a sudden, they’re meeting up with the Hulk, and Magneto is the villain.” It’s like “Secret Wars,” where it’s awesome. But everybody is doing that right now. For the purpose of the Bootleg Universe, where the whole point of it is to approach these things through a different lens, it could be potentially limiting if you’re worried about these crossovers.
That said, having these characters appear in each other’s shorts would be a fun cameo.
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